Friday, July 10, 2009

Schwarzenegger's fraud allegation tough to pin down

The governor claims 25% fraud in In Home Support Services (caregiving that keeps disabled people in their own home at a fraction of the cost of nursing homes).  However, it appears that he picked that number out of thin air.
The Legislative Analyst's Office says "I've never had anyone tell me where that number comes from".  The Bee reports "The 25% figure is the only estimate for fraud cited in a document from the Governor's Office outlining savings he believes could be achieved through anti-fraud measures."  District Attorney Jan Scully admits the 25% number "has not been documented", and "suggested it may be based on surveys that detected a rate of 25% fraud in a different type of social program". 
"Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association -- counties directly supervise IHSS -- said he doubts the figure.  'We don't know anyone who thinks there is a 25% fraud rate in this program,' he said."
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Why don't they assume a 25% fraud rate in government contracting?  In doctors' Medicare billings?  In wealthy people's tax returns?  Why is it always the poor and disabled who are accused of fraud, while the big money goes uninvestigated?
It's because the poor and disabled are not politically well-connected.  We don't make huge campaign contributions that blind elected officials to our faults.  They protect their "friends" and donors, and sacrifice the people who really need help.
In order to get IHSS, you must have been declared disabled by a judge; it's not something you can get just by asking for help.  The caregiver is usually a family member who has given up their career to care for the patient (would you quit your $3500 a month job to earn $1200?).  The number of hours the caregiver is permitted to claim payment for is usually far less than they actually work.  This is thankless work, including changing diapers and cleaning sh** off the patient, which most people would not do for the $8-10/hour caregivers are paid.  These people are on call 24/7 and rarely (if ever) get a day off.  They don't get to say "I'm not bringing you a drink of water because I'm off the clock" or "can changing your diaper wait till I'm officially on duty at 8:30?"
The alternative is to take all the people who are getting IHSS and put them in nursing homes at three times the cost.  That's not the most efficient use of taxpayer money.
But, from his perch in millionairedom, it's easy for the governor to demand the program be decimated or even shut down entirely with his claims of 25% fraud.  He will always be able to afford to hire help with his own money.  But someone who became disabled at a very young age, or who worked in low-paying jobs, does not have the financial wherewithal to do that, and has to rely on a government program.
If you became disabled and therefore lost your income, could your family also withstand the loss of your spouse's income to quit and care for you?  Probably not.  That's the situation these families are in, and they should not be scapegoated with unsubstantiatable claims of 25% fraud.
It's easy to say "not me", but I was doing everything right: daily exercise, healthy diet, didn't drink/smoke/use drugs, when I got sick.  If it happened to me, it could happen to you.

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